Sunday 19 November 2017

An automatic for the people?

KIA OPTIMA RATING 77/100
KIA OPTIMA RATING 77/100

Straightaway I knew. It is one of those instincts one develops over time. The automatic gearbox did not suit this car. It just didn't have the sort of drive I had anticipated. I'm certain the six-speed manual is much better.

Isn't it amazing how the entire character of a car can be affected by one element?

But don't -- and this is really important -- let that put you off the Kia Optima. I didn't let it.

The point is that you should try out as many variants of as many models as possible when shopping for a new motor (be it a 'tiny' motor or a 'giant').

It is amazing how large (transmissions) and small (seats, height of boot lid, gear-change) elements can sway you one way or the other.

Thankfully, the top-spec Platinum version of the Optima I had on test has a manual as well as an automatic option. And the entry level EX has a manual. So it's no big deal.

But it could be a big deal. You see, the vast majority of those buying cars such as the Optima these days are 'business' folk. And some of them might like an automatic, because they cover a lot of road and change a lot of gears.

The sector, by the way, is loosely called 'large family/fleet'. But talk to anyone in the industry and they'll tell you the number of family buyers has shrunk.

What private individual is able to get their hands on €25,000-plus for a new car these days?

So the money is only going to come from the businesses that have to replace their staff cars

And, boy, do they do their sums. Everything is weighed up. They go through what is on offer from all the main carmakers with a fine tooth comb and drive a hard bargain.

That's why I'm emphasising how important it is for private buyers to do the same. Try out as many versions and price levels as you can -- new or used.

We too often make decisions purely on looks, or liking the gizmos on the dash or the colour.

The established rivals who hoover up big chunks of the fleet business will be looking closely at the Optima. Kia has crafted it well. It's big, well balanced, extensively equipped and comes with a seven-year warranty.

To look at, and to drive, there was a 'warmth' about it. It just has the appearance of a big family car. It also fits the look of something you would be driving on company business.

Even the auto gearbox couldn't keep me from enjoying the drive out on the open road. There was a grand, smooth feel to it and it was easy to handle. A really comfortable car to live with. But I have to say the suspension was too soft for my liking. It is behind the likes of the Ford Mondeo in terms of handling.

As a newcomer it also has a mighty task to shift the decision makers away from the likes of the Volkswagen Passat and the newly refurbished Toyota Avensis to mention just two.

But there are strong arguments in its favour. One of them is the 1.7-litre diesel engine. It's a good one. So long as you have the manual -- because that will save you €256 in road tax (it's two bands lower than the automatic).

This newcomer is also really well equipped; the price is on the button and there is that seven-year warranty.

Look, we all know this is such a brutal market. As recent figures show, sales overall are shrinking, so getting a toe-hold is a big ask.

I believe that next year will reveal the big story for the industry generally and for the Optima (it got here far too late to impact this year).

I'm not saying it is automatically (pardon the pun) going to do well, but the seven-year warranty could play a big part in helping to establish it. Reassurance is a big thing these days.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Indo Motoring

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